The Pennsylvania Supreme Court Should Remove the “Z” Words From the Rules of Professional Conduct

November 8, 2021
The Philadelphia Lawyer

Types : Bylined Articles

Contrary to common misconception among lawyers and judges, the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct (“Model Rules”) and their Pennsylvania counterparts (the “RPCs”) impose no duty of “zealous representation,” and never have. Even before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court adopted the RPC’s in 1988, no such duty existed in the Disciplinary Rules under the Code of Professional Responsibility (“CPR”), which Pennsylvania had adopted in 1974. While “zealous” representation was mentioned in Canon 7 and Ethical Consideration 7-1 of the CPR, the Canons and Ethical Considerations in the CPR were merely “aspirational in character,” and were neither mandatory nor a basis for professional discipline.

Nevertheless, “zeal” or its derivatives appear in three places in the Preamble to the RPCs, and once in the Comment to RPC 1.3. Specifically:

Paragraph [2] of the Preamble includes the following sentence: “As advocate, a lawyer zealously asserts the client’s position under the rules of the adversary system.”

Paragraph [8] of the Preamble contains a sentence which states: “Thus, when an opposing party is well represented, a lawyer can be a zealous advocate on behalf of a client and at the same time assume their justice is being done.”


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